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Chapter Four.

Barbarossa North, the Great Opportunity in the Baltic: June 1941

Point (winning): "Exactly four days and five hours after zero hour [the 56th Panzer Corps] had actually completed as the crow flies a non-stop dash through 200 miles of enemy territory ... if at the same time Panzer Group H.Q, pushed the (41st) Panzer Corps straight through Dvinsk behind us, it seemed likely that the enemy would have to keep opposing us with whatever forces he had on hand at the moment and be incapable ... of fighting a set battle."

Erich von Manstein,
Lost Victories

Counterpoint (losing): "27.6.41, The immediate mission for the Kampfgruppe [of 6th Panzer Division, 41st Panzer Corps] ... move to Iluksti 15 km northwest of Dvinsk,... 28.6.41, New orders for division to advance from Roskispic to reach the Dvina by Livani [not anywhere near Dvinsk] and build a bridgehead there [there had been a bridgehead at Dvinsk since noon on 26.6,41]."

U.S. National Archives. Records German Field Commands.


"This was the 'safe,' staff college solution."

Erich von Manstein,
Lost Victories

During the blitz in Russia, momentum characterized German offensive operations, combining swiftly paced advances with the destruction of opposing forces. To break the momentum of Army Group Center in its drive to Moscow by halting and redirecting it away from the capital in an ancillary mission could be described as operational suicide. The Soviet armed forces were too strong for the Germans to present them with a gratuitous opportunity to survive the panzer attack through Russia, designed to destroy the field armies defending Moscow and seize the indispensable strategic space around it.

Nevertheless, on 17 December 1940, Hitler changed the army plan submitted to him by halting Army Group Center after its move through White Russia. The Barbarossa directive, signed by Hitler and issued by the High Command of the Armed Forces (OKW) on 18 December 1940, contains the outlandish and fatuous order for Army Group Center to advance with powerful armored and motorized formations from the area around Warsaw and rout Soviet forces in White Russia blocking the road to Moscow. This would make it possible for operations to continue (by Army Group Center and Army Group North) toward Leningrad to destroy the enemy forces operating in the Baltic area.{1} The most extraordinary aspect of the Hitler Barbarossa directive is that Brauchitsch and Halder at OKH, and Bock at Army Group Center, who received the directive or were aware of it, did not object that carrying out the mission would make it impossible to achieve the highest level intent of the war against the Soviet Union: "to crush Soviet Russia in a rapid campaign [italics in original]."{2}

Hitler Paces Barbarossa to the Seizure of Leningrad

Hitler served notice early in the planning for Barbarossa that he believed Leningrad to be a tempting target. On closer investigation it is clear that he developed a compulsion to secure German communications in the Baltic Sea by seizing Leningrad and destroying the Soviet fleet there. Hitler's capacity to dilute the main effort of a blitz campaign is exemplified by his insistence on taking that city, an action remote from defeating the field armies of the Soviet Union. With questionable concern for the war in general, and a blitz campaign in particular. Hitler explained to the chief of the Armed Forces Operations Staff, Generalleutnant Alfred Jodi, that it was vitally important for "large numbers of the mobile troops of the Army Group in the center to pivot north after they penetrated the enemy front in White Russia. Not until this most vital mission had been accomplished should operations against Moscow be continued."{3} Fortunately for the Germans and their chances of success in Barbarossa Army Group North drove back the Soviets in the Baltic, essentially freeing the movement of Army Group Center toward Moscow.

If followed as Hitler directed, the Barbarossa directive would have ensured the survival of Soviet Russia by immobilizing Army Group Center probably for about five weeks, a period similar to that originally determined as necessary (six to ten weeks) to end the whole campaign. Neither Brauchitsch nor Halder had the temperament or spirit to ensure setting a decisive task for the army in the Barbarossa directive. To their credit as professionals, however, they assumed that the defective plan would be overtaken by events, in which the aggressive Army Group Center leaders would press on for Moscow and the panzer groups then drive beyond into the Moscow-Gorki space. The army plan placed the Schwei-punkt with Army Group Center, and even Hitler agreed to include the statement under tasks in the Barbarossa directive, specifying that "only a surprisingly rapid collapse of Russian resistance could justify the simultaneous pursuit of both [Moscow and Leningrad]."{4} Hitler acknowledged in this revealing sentence that Leningrad would be the priority target for Army Groups North and Center but that it was conceivable that a collapse of Russian resistance would allow Army Group Center to drive uninterruptedly for Moscow.

Army Groups North and Center advanced so rapidly in the opening days of Barbarossa that little question arose of diverting forces from Army Group Center to assist the northern army group in its advance through the Baltic. Through operational skill and luck. Army Group North was presented in the first four days with unforeseen opportunities. The fluid situation gave it an excellent chance of seizing Leningrad within two or three weeks of the beginning of the campaign. This result was possible even though the army group was numerically inferior to the Russians in the occupied Baltic republics and faced an unpaved road system and forested, swampy terrain unsuited for panzer operations. German Army Group North, under Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, was the weakest army group organized for the advance into the Soviet Union, having one panzer group comprising only two panzer corps, in turn holding only three panzer and three motorized infantry divisions. The Soviets faced problems of their own, defending themselves in foreign territory among unfriendly populations anticipating liberation from recent occupation (1939).

German Operational Possibilities on the Baltic Front

Army Group North employed the mobile forces in Panzer Group 4 under Generaloberst Erich Hoepner as the spearhead of the advance toward Leningrad. The most important obstacle it would have to master was the Dvina River, flowing westward from Vitebsk through Dvinsk and Jakobstadt to the Baltic at Riga, in Latvia. This huge obstacle was too far from the German border to be crossed in a one-day coup de main, as the Germans in Panzer Group 3 under Hoth had done at the Nieman River, farther south in Army Group Center. The Germans needed a drive that would seize Leningrad at a blitz pace. destroy the Soviet fleet, and secure German communications once and for all in the Baltic. More important, though, the Germans required quick success to prevent (the diversion of forces from Army Group Center. A quick German victory at Leningrad would speed the drive of Army Group Center on Moscow and, more importantly, the impetuous seizure of Leningrad and Moscow would collapse Soviet resistance in northwest European Russia.

Such possibilities are speculative and, while interesting, are of small merit in any reinterpretation of German success probabilities in Barbarossa unless it is clear that the Germans had the battle-winning capability to defeat the Soviets in the northwest. One can analyze the German capabilities to win on the Army Group North front by examining the actual advances and the concomitant destruction of Soviet forces. To win outright in the north by quickly seizing Leningrad, or to win in the minimally acceptable sense of pinning down the Soviet field armies so that they could not interfere with Army Group Center, the Germans had to pass two tests in the Baltic. They first had to prevent the Soviet buildup of a coherent, blitz-halting defensive system along the Dvina River. Then, having ruptured that system in an acceptably brief period, they had to drive toward Leningrad while simultaneously pinning down Soviet armies on the Baltic front to prevent interference with the German forces moving toward Moscow. The important element for reinterpreting the Russian campaign is, therefore: Did the Germans pass the two necessary tests in the Baltic?

Hoepner's Panzers Seize the Dvina River Bridges at Dvinsk

Army Group North assigned Panzer Group Hoepner the mission of seizing bridgeheads across the Dvina. Hoepner, in turn, assigned his stronger 41st Panzer Corps the mission to cross at Jakobstadt and the weaker 56th Panzer Corps farther east at Dvinsk. The latter corps was approximately 290 km from the center of its assembly area on the Soviet-Lithuanian border to Dvinsk. It also faced serious terrain obstacles such as the gorge on the intervening Du-bissa River, inferior roads, and strong Russian forces with many tanks.{5} In perhaps the most impressive coup in Barbarossa (or any other operation by either side in the Russian campaign), the 8th Panzer Division, 56th Panzer Corps, seized the road and rail bridges over the Dvina River at approximately 0530 on 26 June 1941. Moving about 350 km by road and using innovative tactical subtlety, a small combat team of the Brandenburg Reigment (special forces) reinforced by engineers seized the bridges and prevented their destruction long enough for stronger forces to pass over the bridges and seize the city quickly, preventing it from being turned into a rubble fortress by the Soviets.{6} Halder noted the achievement laconically in his diary: "Confirmed report passed on to Fuhrer; 8th Panzer Division penetrated into Dvinsk at 0800, occupied town at 1250 after hard street fighting."{7} Halder did not comment on the war-winning strategic opportunity presented the Germans in Barbarossa by this stunning operational and tactical performance of the German troops in Army Group North.

The Analogy Between the Meuse and Sedan

In the French Campaign and the Dvina In the Russian Campaign

In several ways, the coup at Dvinsk was analogous to the German drive to the Meuse in France and a similar coup near Sedan on 13 May 1940. In retrospect, it is easy to forget how the Germans agonized over their chances of crossing the Meuse and how differently the campaign would have turned out had not the early pace been maintained. On 7 and 14 February 1940, the Germans conducted war games, attended by the chief of the army general staff and the commander of Army Group A, in which they argued over the timing and operational techniques for crossing the Meuse. Following these war games, in March 1940, Hitler called the leaders of Army Group A, the Schwerpunkt force for the advance in the west, and directed them to outline the tasks for the attack and how they would be carried out. German attention was again riveted on the challenge of crossing the Meuse, to the exclusion of the overall strategy to follow after the crossing, to defeat France.

The commander of the 19th Panzer Corps, the spearhead of Panzer Group Kleist, describes the German uncertainty and nervousness over early success at the Meuse and noted in an amazing scene before Hitler that the commander of the 16th Army, the formation that lay to the south of the armored wedge, cried out:

"Well I don't think you'll cross the river in the first place."{8} The almost exclusive attention devoted to crossing the Meuse stands out in the authoritative claim made by the redoubtable panzer corps commander, Heinz Guderian: "I never received any further orders as to what I was to do once the bridgehead over the Meuse was secured. All my decisions, until I reached the Atlantic seaboard at Abbeville were taken by me and me alone. The Supreme Command's influence on my actions was merely restrictive throughout."{9}

In the analogous case of Panzer Group Hoepner driving for Leningrad, the Germans had to negotiate quickly a major river, the Dvina, for blitzkrieg-pace success. They concentrated on a swift crossing of the Dvina while scarcely considering the continuation of the attack in the event of immediate success at the river. The commander of the 56th Panzer Corps, which must be considered because of its successful advance to be the spearhead of Panzer Group Hoepner, comments in his memoirs exclusively on the task of reaching the Dvina River. Inexplicably, for a man of his talents, the panzer commander, General der Infanterie Erich von Manstein, fails to connect the operational goal to seize the Dvina crossing with the strategic end of winning Leningrad. Manstein notes that before the offensive started he had been asked how long it would take to reach Dvinsk, assuming it were possible to do so. He answered, "If it could not be done inside four days, we could hardly count on capturing the crossing intact."{10} He does not mention why it was important to capture the bridges intact, nor does he comment on why it was necessary strategically to secure the crossings intact and immediately in a successful advance to Leningrad. What appears in the most important opportunity offered the German attackers in Barbarossa is that, like the earlier case of the Meuse in France, they were engrossed in the details of crossing the Dvina.{11} Unlike in France, where Guderian kept the strategic goal of an advance to the sea clearly in mind and pressed on unhesitatingly through powerful but confused and dislocated French and British forces, Manstein made the astounding offhand comment that he was less exercised by his initially isolated position, "which would not continue indefinitely, than by the problem of what the next move should be."{12} The next day, 27 June 1941, Hoepner arrived in Dvinsk and could not set a deep strategic objective for Manstein, or for the 41st Panzer Corps-far behind, but effectively disengaging from a tough tank battle around the town of Rossenie.

Faced with the historical analogy suggested between the Meuse and the Dvina, it is tempting to state that, had Guderian crossed the Dvina four days and five hours into the campaign with unscathed forces, he would have projected himself directly toward Leningrad, dragging a reluctant high command to a collapse of the Soviet Baltic front, or at least the severe dislocation of Soviet forces and encirclement of major forces by the German 18th Army along the Baltic Sea. The aggressive continuation of the march by Man-stein's 56th Panzer Corps would have forced the switch of Rein-hardt's delayed 41st Panzer Corps from a side-by-side advance to the Dvina at Jakobstadt to a commitment in depth behind Manstein. With that echeloning of forces, the Germans would have automatically cleared the supply and communications lines to Manstein and added enough strength, with three additional mobile divisions and one attached hard-marching infantry division, to drive immediately through Dvinsk to Pskov and Leningrad.

The Greatest Unforeseen Opportunity Presented to the Germans in Barbarossa

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Soviet forces cut off to the west and south of Pskov from resupply and movement through that town would have been overtaken and broken up by the German 18th Army advancing on the Baltic side of Panzer Group Hoepner. It is equally difficult to escape the conclusion that German tanks, arriving in Pskov about 4 July 1941, would have broken down Soviet command and control. The Soviet Baltic command, for example, could no longer have been reinforced from reserves mobilizing in the interior of Russia. The Finnish armed forces, aided by several German divisions, advanced against the Soviet Union on 10 July 1941, adding support to the view that a more decisive handling of Panzer Group Hoepner after 26 June 1941 would have led to the seizure of Leningrad in July 1941.

This possibility was the greatest unforeseen opportunity presented the Germans in the Russian campaign. It was made possible by Manstem's success at Dvinsk, but it was not seized by the Germans, and it is worthwhile to examine the reasons why. In an analysis of the hypothetical situation-the most important "what if" situation with German Army Group North-one could ask:

Were these conjectural moves realistically possible? Could the Germans, who proved capable of partially encircling Leningrad in September 1941 and besieging it for 900 days, have seized the city or effected a total land encirclement in July 1941? The operational situation to be clarified is whether the 41st Panzer Corps could have been extricated from the tank fight at Rossenie and pushed through behind Manstem's 56th Panzer Corps to the northeast at Dvinsk. This little-discussed possibility ranks as one of the most .important in the Second World War in Europe. If the Germans 'were capable of shifting the 41st Panzer Corps through Dvina, it may be concluded that the concentrated 4th Panzer Group would have taken Leningrad in July 1941. Army Group Center would have been assisted in its drive on Moscow by that success, and, after the fall of Moscow and the parallel collapse at Leningrad, the Soviet strategic position in northwestern Soviet Russia would have been untenable.

Much has been written in the west on the campaigns and engagements of 1942-1945 in the Mediterranean and northwestern Europe, with similar outpourings in the Soviet Union over Stalingrad, Kursk, and other momentous battles in the east during the same period. Study of the campaigns, battles, and engagements remain important, indeed irreplaceable in understanding modern conventional war and the deployment of conventional forces on a tactical nuclear battlefield. But none of the engagements in the European theater from 1942 to 1945, some of which, such as Ala-mein, Stalingrad, Kursk, and Normandy, can be important because it influenced in any significant sense the issues of victory or defeat. The most that can be claimed for the battles of 1942-1945 is that a special few brought Germany closer to defeat assured by the summer of 1941 or in some significant degree delayed the virtually assured outcome of the war. The shift of the 41st Panzer Corps behind Manstein in late June 1941, however, transcends entire later campaigns in importance on the issue of victory or defeat in the war and not merely the advance or delay of Allied victory. Yet because of an interpretation of the Second World War that does not distinguish between issues of greater and lesser importance, the shift of the 41st Panzer Corps to capitalize on the Manstein opportunity remains little known and thinly analyzed.

The Issue of a War-winning Drive by Panzer Group Hoepner Through Dvinsk to Leningrad

On 22 June 1941, assigned to seize a bridgehead over the Dvina River at Jakobstadt, the 41st Panzer Corps advanced into the Soviet Union until, on the third day of its drive, on 24 June 1941 at 1500, it bumped into powerful counterattacking Soviet tank forces, compelling it to fight a major tank battle around Rossenie.{13} The corps had its hands full against approximately 300 Soviet tanks and comparable strength in infantry and artillery. At this stage of the war in the east. a German panzer corps, with its two panzer and one motorized infantry divisions at full strength, should have finished off the Soviet force in a tough but crisis-free battle ending on 25 June 1941. The Soviet force, however, included approximately twenty-nine heavy tanks with thick armor, big guns, and wide tracks, which translated into impressive survivability, fire power, and tactical movement on the battlefield.{14} The two German panzer divisions, with their large complement of Czech-manufactured, medium-light tanks and additional modestly gunned German medium tanks, found it difficult to master the Soviet heavy tanks. Nevertheless, with characteristic German tactical virtuosity, the panzer corps managed to encircle the Soviet 3d Mechanized Corps by 0830 on 26 June 1941 and annihilate it the same day.{15} The stage was set for the decision of the war in the north-in which direction to commit the 41st Panzer Corps on 27 June 1941, and what would be the resultant mission for Panzer Group Hoepner.

Earlier, on 23 June, after air reconnaissance revealed the powerful Soviet tank force in the path of Panzer Group 4, Hoepner decided not to turn around the leading 8th Panzer Division of the 56th Panzer Corps to assist in the impending tank battle but to direct it toward Dvinsk as planned. The decision paid off handsomely because on 26 June, as the tank battle at Rossenie ended, the 8th Panzer Division had crossed the Dvina, seized the city of Dvinsk, and enlarged the resulting bridgehead to the north. By 27 June 1941, Hoepner had already ordered his Panzer Group reserve, motorized infantry division, Totenkopf, to push through to Dvinsk and support the successful drive of the 8th Panzer Division. On 27 June, Hoepner, visiting Manstein in the Dvinsk bridgehead, had the chance to make the fateful decision, which would probably have led to the July seizure of Leningrad.

The war-winning decision would have been to order the 8th Panzer Division and accompanying 3d Motorized Infantry Division to take Pskov immediately, then keep the Soviets off balance the remaining distance to Leningrad. One might fairly ask: Did the two German mobile divisions have the necessary mobility and strength to drive through to Pskov? The second part of Hoepner's super-decision, to order the 41st Panzer Corps immediately forward along the same axis of advance, answers the question. The dangerously exposed and distant 8th Panzer and 3d Motorized Infantry divisions of Hoepner's concentrated Panzer Group would have been followed by Totenkopf and the three mobile divisions of the 41st Panzer Corps. That force-six German mobile divisions-would have the capability against surprised, confused, and disrupted Soviet defenders of 27 June 1941 and the following days to drive through to Pskov.

Hoepner carries a heavy burden for not ordering the 56th Panzer Corps forward out of Dvinsk on 27 June and redirecting 41st Panzer Corps behind it. By not exploiting the great achievement of the 8th Panzer Division, Hoepner paralyzed Panzer Group 4 and invited strategic disaster for the Germans in the Baltic. On 1 July 1941 Hoepner informed his panzer corps generals that "the army group commander is strongly influenced by the idea that the panzer group in the existing situation cannot alone break the enemy resistance between Duna {Dvina} and Leningrad and is taking measures to lead the infantry armies even closer to the panzer corps." In not forcing the hand of Leeb on 27 June 1941, Hoepner allowed him to curb the "operational freedom of movement" of the armor by 1 July.{16} Instead of driving through Pskov by approximately 4 July, Hoepner had just begun to move beyond the Dvina and toward that city, a week behind the schedule made possible by the coup at Dvinsk. German armor at Pskov on about 4 July 1941 would have severely reduced the Soviet chances of knitting an effective defense between Leningrad and the fast-moving mobile divisions.

There are objections to the picture I have drawn, including the nonconjectural point that the Germans did not encircle Leningrad until September 1941. It can be argued that the Germans did eventually encircle Leningrad even though they did not exploit their initial grand opportunity at Dvinsk. That the Germans reached the great Russian city on the Baltic in September supports my argument that they would have been similarly successful in July 1941 had they exploited their earlier, equally nonconjectural opportunity at Dvinsk. Manstein, the gifted commander of the 56th Panzer Corps, argues convincingly that "a tank drive such as {the} panzer corps made to Dvinsk inevitably generates confusion and panic in the enemy's communication zone; it ruptures the enemy's chain of command and makes it virtually impossible to coordinate his countermeasures."{17} Others, including the former operations officer of the 6th Panzer Division, 41st Panzer Corps, have argued to the contrary that the Rossenie battle disrupted that corps just enough{18} that it could not reach Dvinsk fast enough to contribute decisively to an effective drive of the entire panzer group concentrated for an advance to Pskov.{19} The argument is not convincing because parts of the 41st Panzer Corps pushed on so rapidly after the Rossenie battle that they reached Jakobstadt only two days after Manstein crossed the Dvina.{20} At Jakobstadt they did not seize any bridge intact and took until 2 July 1941 to cross and recapture momentum. Had the 41st Panzer Corps pushed through to Dvinsk on 28 June as it had moved to Jakobstadt, it would have been able immediately to cross the bridges already seized by the 56th Panzer Corps and found itself part of a concentrated thrust to Pskov led by the latter corps, now almost two days ahead.

The Historic Moment: Hoepner and Manstein Fail to Act in the Baltic

Presented with the grand opportunity to develop the operations noted above, Hoepner opted instead for a safe, staff-college solution in the north, ordering the 41st Panzer Corps to advance on Jakobstadt, while the 56th Panzer Corps eventually spent seven days waiting for its companion corps to force a crossing of a river bridged a week previously. When every hour counted at the start of the blitz to keep the Soviet forces in the Baltic off balance, Hoepner and his commander at Army Group North. Ritter von Leeb, allowed a panzer corps to sit in a bridgehead. Soviet forces were attracted to it, regained their composure, and launched strong attacks against the voluntarily immobilized German tank forces. The circumstances present several ironies, foremost among them that Hitler, through OKW on 27 June 1941, ordered Army Group North to redirect 41st Panzer Corps through Dvinsk to exploit the great opportunity created by Manstein's troops. Hitler, who, with this noteworthy exception, served as a brake on forward momentum in Barbarossa, escapes blame for the indecisive handling of Panzer Corps Hoepner. The soldiers-Hoepner, his commander, Leeb, and to some degree, OKH-must shoulder the blame for the war-losing conservatism at Dvinsk. Perhaps equal in irony, Manstein, who argued in retrospect for continuation of the drive, commenting that Hoepner "could tell us nothing" about future objectives after crossing the Dvina. under reevaluation is no longer the hero of the piece.

Manstein knew that the destruction of the Soviet forces blocking the way to Leningrad, and the city itself, were the objectives of the panzer drive. He did not need Hoepner to enter into the bridgehead to reiterate that or, worse yet, to claim the panzer group was bound to be cautious about future moves because of uncertainties about keeping the attack marshalled. One does not need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing, and Manstein required no elaboration from his immediate senior on a drive aimed unambiguously at Leningrad. This lack of initiative by Manstein stands up poorly compared with Guderian's uninterrupted exploitation of the earlier Meuse crossing, particularly since Guderian never received instructions on what to do after he crossed the Meuse. German operations were so finely tuned that had Guderian waited for instructions from another conservative commander (Kleist) in the bridgehead over the Meuse on 13 May 1940, it is doubtful that the French campaign would have been a German success. The analogy shows that Manstein realistically could have been expected to forge ahead out of the bridgehead, dragging a reluctant high command in Army Group North along the road to Pskov and Leningrad as Guderian dragged Kleist and the Fuhrer himself to the English Channel in 1940.

Instead, Manstein sat tamely in his bridgehead, losing seven irretrievable days that should have been used to deepen the shock in the opposing field armies and to tear up the command and control capabilities of the Soviet Baltic military district. When action could have resulted in the immediate seizure of Leningrad, the associated uninterrupted advance of Army Group Center through Moscow, and quick victory over the Soviet Union, he did not move on his own initiative. In 1942 and 1943, Manstein would achieve astounding operational success on the eastern front with his meticulously planned and utterly determined attacks at Sevastopol and on the Kerch Peninsula. His supreme achievements as a commander were the combined extraction of German armies from the Caucasus, near-relief of the 6th Army at Stalingrad, and the great counterstroke south of Kharkov in March 1943. As a staff officer, Manstein drafted the German operation plan for the successful advance into France. This achievement, along with his successes as a commander of the 38th Army Corps in France, gave him the reputation of the premier operational mind of the war in Europe.

Manstein's paralysis at Dvinsk in 1941 and his desperately unimaginative attack against known Soviet defenses in the Kursk battle of 1943 lower his reputation. These lapses contrast badly with Guderian's instincts at the Meuse in May 1940 and throughout Barbarossa, but especially in crossing the Dnieper in early July 1941, supporting the grand strategical concepts to conquer France and the Soviet Union. The German supreme successes in the Second World War were the battle of France and the opening two months of Barbarossa, In the former, the Germans eliminated a great continental power from further contention in the war, and in the latter they seized the initiative and presented themselves an opportunity to win the war in Europe. Guderian was the man of the moment when the Germans had the opportunity to win; Manstein peaks as operational commander in 1943, when any battle fought, no matter how brilliantly, could not have won the war.

Writing after the war on the campaign in the Baltic, Hoepner does not mention the opportunity presented the Germans at Dvinsk, commenting only that "the first intermediate operational target" of the panzer group had been reached for the time being at an important point and that a great river barrier had been overcome. The chief of staff, Oberst Charles de Beaulieu, implied that it was important to get a bridgehead across the Dvina River as quickly as possible as an end in itself. Astoundingly, his comments on the first two weeks in the Baltic support a conclusion that if the quick crossing of the Dvina were an end in itself, it would have been to mop up Russian forces south of the river. After that, while leisurely waiting for the infantry to complete its task, the Germans would consider moving on toward Leningrad. These comments are savage satire on Beaulieu's sense of urgency in the Baltic. Beaulieu notes that the quick thrust of the panzer group to the Dvina "had succeeded and won at the same time an adequately wide basis ... for further mobile operations in the direction of Leningrad." The word in the quotation above translated as "wide" also means "diffuse" in German, and the reader must suspect that the panzer chief of staff and his commander were more concerned with the breadth and safety of their operations than depth and concentration.{21}

Aftermath of the Paralysis at Dvinsk

Presented with the heaven-sent opportunity at Dvinsk, the panzer leaders should have driven the panzer group toward Leningrad until compelled by Soviet resistance, terrain, or logistics to halt. Unlike Hoth and Guderian, who could operate quickly and in depth, Hoepner, his chief of staff, and the commander of Army Group North stood planted in a more leisurely past, unable to exploit their new mobility. On 28 June 1941 the 1st Panzer Division, 41st Panzer Corps, freed from the Rossenie tank battle, had the technical capability and tactical energy to advance 150 km toward Jakobstadt in a twenty-four-hour period for no decisive operational purpose. The 41st Panzer Corps did not move northward out of its bridgehead until 2 July 1941, allowing the 56th Panzer Corps to move forward and renew the war. It was a disgrace for the panzer group that infantry divisions of the neighboring 18th Army thrust combat detachments across the Dvina into Riga, capital of Latvia, only three hours into the morning of 29 June and two days before the armor moved out of the bridgeheads around Jakobstadt and Dvinsk.

In spite of his conservative command of the Panzer Group, Hoepner placed his forces on the Luga River near Porietschje, only 110 km from Leningrad, on 14 July 1941. This was an advance of 750 km from the border of 22 June. Although operations slowed at this point. Army Group North had pushed back all the Soviet forces mustered on this important front. In September 1941, in other operations, the army group came close to seizing Leningrad outright. They were deterred at the last minute largely by Hitler's aberrant judgment to besiege the city rather than risk heavy casualties in a possibly unsuccessful coup de main. To understand the Second World War in Europe at its turning point in mid-1941, it can be generalized that the Germans missed a unique opportunity to win immediately in the Baltic and that terrain and road conditions favored the defenders. Army Group North battered the opposing Soviet forces effectively and quickly gained so much ground that the Soviets never achieved operational freedom of maneuver. Nor were they ever able to interfere significantly with the advance of Army Group Center. On the contrary, the German forces set siege lines around Leningrad in September 1941 and had a strong chance of seizing it outright shortly before the siege.